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The Smoker's Retreat

Part 1 Project 2009
Michael Slade
University of Sheffield, UK
Located within the hidden alleyways of Nottingham’s medieval city centre, the project brief required the development of programmes appropriate to the peripheral nature of these urban sites. As it is in these leftover spaces that unwanted or illicit activities often take place - usually in an ad hoc fashion - the recent implementation of a smoking ban opened up a pertinent opportunity to formalise the habits of a newly marginalized demographic.

Informed by Victorian arcades and the work of Soane, the materially rich architecture of the Smoker’s Retreat evolved out of early investigations into the possibilities surrounding smoking rituals and associated paraphernalia, with the project’s conceptual approach deconstructing smoking instruments and experimenting with the potential use of smoke as medium. By drawing links between the anatomies of these instruments and the potential spatial relationships within the building it was intended that the final design would act as an analogous apparatus to smoke with; accommodating a tobacconist’s shop, a set of private smoking rooms which exploited legal loopholes and a juxtaposed sequence of other intimate spaces which responded to the site’s awkward and irregular geometries and which centred round a focal smoker’s courtyard.

Michael Slade

Nottingham is unique amongst the core cities in retaining its medieval character. Limits on the city’s expansion up until the mid 19th century mean that buildings from all periods of the city’s growth sit cheek by jowl in the dense core of the city. Many of the alleyways constructed during this period in Nottingham’s development are still present today.

Originally the alleyways were constructed as a means to provide access and servicing into the deep medieval blocks of the old city. Today the majority of these alleyways are vacant or underutilised. Some are now dead ends while others have been gated or built over illustrating how the benefits of these alleyways can be lost over time. This is especially relevant, as Nottingham City Council at this point do not have a clear strategy for their future use.

Throughout the project we explored the existing alleyway condition. This understanding was then used as a basis to develop proposals that explored the potential of the alleyways to accommodate facilities that, due to a number of reasons, are often pushed to the periphery of both the city and society.

This project offers a Facility for Smokers within one of the restricted Alleyways. The response came out of an intelligent reading of the confined nature of the site and explored the current legislation around the act of smoking. His approach has been one of human scale proposals, which are appropriate, delicate in plan and materially rigorous.

The outcome is an amazing piece of work as not only does it offer subtle spatial occupancies but also a variety of bespoke interventions that are beautifully crafted. His drawings and models clearly show a student who is enjoying the process of architectural representation, evoking and engaging the themes that he has developed. This is without doubt a sophisticated piece of work that has both physical and intellectual presence. Overall his work was awarded a 1st class degree and the work is a testament to his engagement, commitment and passion for the subject.


Mr Satwinder Samra
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